Open Your Bible
Joshua 13:1-33, Deuteronomy 3:22, Revelation 5:9-10
BY Jen Yokel
The book of Joshua is known for its epic tales of war and wonders, of walls collapsing at the blast of trumpets, and the sun standing still in the sky. But as you’ve been reading, you’ve probably also noticed a book of lists, of conquered kings and detailed land allotments. From Abraham under the stars to an army crossing the Jordan, the promised land has been both a distant dream and a sought-after goal.
In chapter 13, Joshua’s war days are done, but God reminds him of some unfinished business. There’s a great deal of land waiting to be possessed, still occupied by the Philistines, Canaanites, and other tribes. God promises to take care of clearing the land. All Joshua needs to do is distribute it (Joshua 13:6–7).
A string of lists about who gets what follows. This might feel like tedious reading for us today, but to the tribes of ancient Israel, land ownership was an important asset for a good life. A family’s land could be bought and sold, but it could also be inherited, passed down for the security of future generations. For a community who had been freed from slavery only to wander in the desert for forty years, the prospect of settling down and having an inheritance was worth celebrating and recording.
And yet, there’s one repeated exception. The tribe of Levi, Israel’s priestly class, receives some cities, but no land to call their own. Instead, “The LORD, the God of Israel, was their inheritance, just as he had promised them” (Joshua 13:33). At this point, we are left to wonder why the keepers of sacrifices and worship (arguably the most important work) are not granted some land of their own?
I wonder if it has something to do with detachment from security. For so much of their story, God has been leading these people, fighting for them, and showing them the way to go. They have shown themselves to be fickle and forgetful, longing for the old life when a new, better one is coming. How easily they could have settled into the security of the new land, passing along the inheritance, forgetting the miraculous journey to get there.
Maybe these priests were there to remind them what it’s like to utterly depend on God, to serve as spiritual leaders within their communities, rather than separate themselves. In a way, our living in the midst of this world is a bit like the Levites living among neighboring tribes: both require dependence on God.
I’d like to think we share a common ground with the Levites, as outsiders brought to God and made into “a kingdom and priests to our God” (Revelation 5:9–10). Our inheritance is not found in land or other wealth, but in God, just as He promised, with a hope and security that will never fade.